Survey of the Old Testament - Lesson 26

Introduction to the Writings

These books are about how you think and live in light of the covenant. The genres include narrative, poetry and prophecy. The Hebrew Bible order emphasizes teaching then example.

Miles Van Pelt
Survey of the Old Testament
Lesson 26
Watching Now
Introduction to the Writings

I. Introduction

II. First Six Books

III. Second Six Books

  • Dr. Miles Van Pelt is offering an opportunity to study the Old Testament and understand its overall message in more detail. The Old Testament consists of 2/3 of the Bible, and serves as a foundation for many teachings found in the New Testament. Its main purpose is to point towards Jesus who makes possible a new covenant with God's people. The structure of both Testaments follows a covenantal pattern that compels humans to make choices regarding their relationship with God, while demonstrating His patience and perseverance in doing so.
  • Knowing the purpose, structure and theological center of the Old Testament, will help you understand more accurately the character of God, and his purpose in the world and in your life. The Old Testament teaches you about Christ and describes his ministry. Colossians 3:15-16 reads, "Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart, let the word of Christ dwell in you richly."

  • What you decide is the theological center of the Bible will determine how you understand the Bible and apply it to your life. You can see unity in biblical authorship by the number of times the phrase, “thus says Yahweh” is used in the Old Testament.  The person and work of Jesus is the theological center of the Old Testament. The living force of the canonical word must be the incarnate word. The proper nouns used in the Bible indicate the important characters and themes.

  • Jesus claims that the Old Testament finds its ultimate meaning in him. After his resurrection, Jesus meets two disciples on the road to Emmaus and gives them a lesson in biblical interpretation. The Father and the Scriptures testify about who Jesus is. In Romans 1:3, Paul refers to the Gospel being revealed through his prophets, in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son. Every book in the Bible teaches about Christ so every sermon should teach about Christ. Hebrews 11 refers to the great cloud of witnesses.

  • The Kingdom of God is the over-arching theme of the whole Bible. God governs his kingdom by his covenants. The covenant of grace is in effect throughout the Bible and has different administrations.

  • The form that our Bibles come to us in is meaningful for interpretation. The Hebrew Bible has a different order of the books than the English Bible.  

  • The order of books in the English Bible and the Hebrew Bible is different because the criteria for determining the order is different. The order of the books in the Hebrew Bible reflect an emphasis on covenant, and also teaching important concepts then giving a practical example to illustrate how to put it into practice.

  • The three divisions in the Old Testament are the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. Genesis and Revelation are the introduction and conclusion to the Bible and have parallel themes. Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are the four covenant books that record the birth and death of the covenant mediator and contain his life and teachings. The former prophets record the history of Israel. The latter prophets call people to repent and return to God.

  • Your presuppositions about whether or not the authors who wrote the books of the Bible were inspired by God will influence your position the authorship of the Pentateuch. The traditional view is that Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament at about 1200 to 1400 B.C. The documentary hypothesis claims that there were four or more separate authors that wrote beginning in about 900 B.C.

  • Genesis is the covenant prologue and is both protological and eschatological. It is the most covenantal book in the Bible. One way to outline the book is into twelve parts, each beginning with the phrase, “these are the generations.” Creation is described using a theological order.

  • Chapter 2 is a detailed description of the sixth day of creation, culminating in the creation of woman. Chapter 3 describes the Fall and the consequences. Hebrew homonyms link the passages and intensify the descriptions.

  • Noah functions as a prophetic covenant mediator. God promises a remnant in his covenant with Noah and also renews the covenant of common grace. God continues his redemptive covenant with Abraham and his descendants. The book of Genesis ends with the narrative of Joseph.

  • This is the beginning of the formal documents of the covenant of God with the people of Israel. It begins with the birth of Moses and ends with the people of Israel coming out of Egypt.

  • Leviticus is primarily instructions to promote the holiness of God’s people. It provides a system that allows for a holy God to live among an unholy people. In the sacrificial system, there are 5 kinds of offerings. Jesus is the fulfillment of the observance of the Day of Atonement.

  • The book of Numbers is a record of the events of the forty years of wandering in the wilderness. The purpose is to contrast the faithfulness of God with the faithlessness of the Israelites. The time in the wilderness was a period of testing for the people of Israel.

  • This is a renewal of the Mosaic covenant in preparation for entering the Promised Land. It’s an encouragement to keep the Law and a reminder of blessings for obedience and cursings for disobedience. Deuteronomy points us to Jesus who ultimately fulfills the Law.

  • Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings describe the nature and purpose of the Sinai Covenant and the historical events of the occupation of the land. God know that the people of Israel would fail to obey the Mosaic Covenant, so he had planned from the beginning to establish the New Covenant when the time was right.

  • Joshua was the successor to Moses. The book of Joshua focuses on the Promised Land. The people of Israel enter the land, conquer the land, divide the land between the tribes and then renew their covenant with God. Holy war and covenant obedience are important themes.

  • Judges has two introductions, two conclusions, six major judges, six minor judges and one anti-judge. It can be described as the, “uncreation” of Israel. Their purpose was to judge the nations and to deliver the people of Israel from their oppressors.

  • The book of Samuel provides the answer to the crisis of kingship. Samuel, as the last judge and first prophet, anoints Saul as king. The people of Israel reject Yahweh as king. Saul is anointed by Samuel and serves as king but is later rejected because of disobedience. David is anointed king because God acts according to his own will. Solomon begins well and ends badly.

  • The book of Kings is the story of the monarchy in the nation of Israel. It begins with the united monarchy under Solomon, then after his death, is divided into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. We can learn about God’s character and the importance of living in a covenant relationship with God.  

  • The Latter Prophets are covenant lawyers. They are executing the lawsuit of God against Israel for unfaithfulness to the covenant. Prophets use both oracular prophecies and sign acts to communicate their message.

  • Isaiah is sometimes described as the, “fifth gospel” because it is quoted so much in the New Testament. The themes in Isaiah are both timely for his generation and also point to their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus and the end of time.

  • Jeremiah’s call was to tell the people of Judah why they were going into exile and also to give them hope for future restoration. The book contains oracles, accounts of visions and symbolic actions, prophetic laments and historical narratives.

  • One key to understanding Ezekiel is the glory of God in the temple. The book begins with God appearing to Ezekiel, then God leaves the temple and, in the end, God returns. Ezekiel’s oracles and signs illustrate each of these.

  • In the Hebrew Bible, these 12 minor prophets are treated as one book. Each one is a covenant lawyer that is prosecuting God’s lawsuit against the unfaithful nation of Israel and also preaching a message of hope for restoration. The Day of the Lord is the day of the king’s victory over his enemy, either to crush an enemy or to save a people.

  • These books are about how you think and live in light of the covenant. The genres include narrative, poetry and prophecy. The Hebrew Bible order emphasizes teaching then example.

  • Covenant life is a life of worship. The book divisions in the manuscripts were purposefully arranged so the book as a whole has a meaningful narrative. It emphasized the kingship of Yahweh, the Davidic line and the temple. You can use specific patterns of construction for understanding lament, thanksgiving and hymns of praise psalms. You can also use the same patterns to help you respond to God and worship him.

  • Job deals with the issue of human tragedy and suffering. Job never knows what happened in heaven that resulted in his suffering. His three friends made correct theological arguments but they were misapplied. Job speaks about suffering and hope. God challenges Job at the end of the book, and also restores his possessions and children.

  • Solomon created a collection of practical wisdom sayings. Some were for instructing children, some for instructing kings, but they all are applicable to help everyone live in the light of the covenant of grace in the context of common grace.

  • Ruth follows Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible. Even though she is from Moab, she lives in Israel with her widowed Israelite mother-in-law to take care of her. She marries Boaz and is included in the genealogy of David and Jesus.

  • Marriage should be both rock solid in terms of covenant commitment and white hot in terms of sexual intimacy. If it is both, you can better resist temptation, endure hardship and promote wholeness.   

  • The message of Ecclesiastes is that true knowledge, wisdom and meaning in life begins with the fear of the Lord. The author of Ecclesiastes, likely Solomon, tests this conclusion and is unsuccessful in finding ultimate meaning in activities, “under the sun,” like wealth, relationships, power, projects, etc.

  • Lamentations is a collection of funeral dirges lamenting the fall and exile of Jerusalem. The elegant structure of the book is a contrast to the chaos and destruction of the events that are taking place. Each poem gives you a different perspective on God’s character and his covenant faithfulness.

  • Esther is a story of living a life of faith in exile. It Bringing “shalom” into a hostile environment sometimes even requires risking your life. The festival of Purim commemorates God saving his people and is still celebrated today.

  • Daniel and Esther are examples of living a life of faith while in exile. Daniel was different than the writing prophets because he is not primarily a covenant lawyer prosecuting God’s lawsuit against the people of Israel. The first six chapters are biographical stories highlighting God’s power to save and his sovereignty over the nations. The second six chapters are visions of the future.

  • The book of Ezra-Nehemiah records the last events, chronologically, in the Old Testament. Ezra returned from exile with authorization to teach the Law of the Jews and institute the sacrificial system. Nehemiah returned to rebuild Jerusalem. They fail in their human attempt to rebuild heaven on earth, which encourages you to look forward to the city built by God.

  • The return from exile is not the greater one prophesied by the prophets. We still look forward to the return from exile with them in the resurrection. Chronicles traces the seed that was promised and gives an account of the return from exile.

Take this opportunity to study with Dr. Miles Van Pelt as he shows you patterns and themes that will help you understand the Old Testament and the whole Bible. He will give you an overall view of the Old Testament then discuss specifics about each of the books. 

For instance, you might ask, "What kind of book is the Old Testament?" The OT is a single story told three times over: once in Genesis, once in Exodus through Nehemiah, and once again in Chronicles (just like day 6 in Genesis 1–2). The OT loves to repeat itself, repeat itself, repeat itself. This is how it teaches us. The Old Testament is about 2/3 of the Bible and is the basis for everything you read in the New Testament. The better you understand the Old Testament, the clearer you will understand the message of the Bible. 

What is the Message of the Old Testament? The Old Testament points to the New Covenant. The teachings, prophecies and examples of covenant life point to Jesus who makes the New Covenant possible and inaugurates it. There are also examples in the Old Testament of how human efforts to create heaven on earth fall short, so that we will anticipate and yearn for our ultimate deliverance from exile.

What is the Structure of the Old Testament? The structure of the Old Testament, and the Bible as a whole, is covenantal. God offers to live in the covenant of grace with him and compels them to make that choice. The administrations of the covenant with Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus demonstrate God's patience and perseverance to include as many as are willing.


Recommended Books

Survey of the Old Testament - Bible Study

Survey of the Old Testament - Bible Study

Take this opportunity to study with Dr. Miles Van Pelt as he shows you patterns and themes that will help you understand the Old Testament and the whole Bible. He will give...

Survey of the Old Testament - Bible Study

Dr. Miles Van Pelt

Survey of the Old Testament


Introduction to the Writings

I. Introduction (00:11):

All right, this lecture represents a brief lecture to the introduction to the third section of the Hebrew Bible. We've covered the law, the prophets, in the categories of the former and latter prophets, and now, we're moving into the third and final section of the Hebrew Bible, The Writings.

This is a chart from our previous lectures, regarding the structure of the Christian Bible. It begins with Genesis, and ends with Revelation. Both the Old and the New Testaments have three sections, Jesus called them, with regard to His Old Testament, the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, which now we call, The Writings. Those three categories represent the covenant documents, covenant history, both the history itself and the interpretation of that history, and then covenant life.

A. Covenant Life (00:59):

We're going to be talking about this covenant life section now. How do you think and live in light of the covenant? So these are the fun practical books. What's interesting about them is we know why Exodus and Deuteronomy are together, they span the birth to the death of the covenant mediator. They're about Moses's life and teachings, naturally. These are all the historical books right here that run from Israel's entrance into the Promised Land to their exile. These are all the prophets that interpret them. So you've got narrative, narrative poetry, and then you get to the writing, and it looks like there was a car accident that happened in here. Why do we have poetry and prose. Why do them mixed up? Why aren't all the poets first, and all the narrative stuff later. It seems to be troublesome.

I'll give you a couple of quotes about how people think about this material. This is from Paul Wagner, The Journey, From Text to Translation. He says, "The books of this section have few links with each other. They have diverse literary forms and many cannot be dated precisely." That's the pessimistic view.

Also, I'm about to say the word, ketuvim. That's the Hebrew word for this thing, and I'm just going to be quoting someone, so ketuvim just means writings. This is Graeme Goldsworthy, who wrote Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics. He states, "Some suggest that the inclusion of Ezra and Nehemiah in the ketuvim is due simply, to the lateness of their composition, presumably after the Nevi'im, the prophets, were identified as a group. There were of course, the three post-exilic prophets in the prophetic canon. So it is possible that these narrative books were excluded from the Prophets for other reasons”. Obviously, they were.

Here's Graeme Goldsworthy, again. He says this, "The fact that narrative, such as Ruth, Esther, and 1st and 2nd Chronicles, and Ezra and Nehemiah, are placed in the ketuvim, does perhaps, raise some hermetical questions for us. Particularly, those about the intended effects of those accounts on the exilic community. Each of the books, in this section of the Hebrew canon, has to be dealt with on its own terms. There is no clear, specific umbrella that qualifies the writings for that grouping, other than the big picture of Israel before her God."

B. Israel Before Her God (03:07):

So he is pessimistic at the end, but he hits the nail on the head. Israel before her God. How do you think and live, in light of the covenant? They all think this is all wackadoodle construction, and you have to take them on their own. But I'm going to argue to you, that there is actually an intentional literary design to these 12 books, that we see here.

In the Prophets, former and later Prophets, I told you that the former Prophets, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, are about life in the land. Then, the latter Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Twelve, are about life in exile. The same grouping occurs here.

II. First Six Books: Life in the Land (03:47):

The first six books are about life in the land. What is the first thing that's required when you live in God's covenant in the land with Him? It's a life of worship. Psalms. The number one type in the book of Psalms is lament, because you're living between promise and fulfillment. What does the life of lament look like? Job. Therefore, since we live in a broken world, we've got to suffer. How do we live wisely? Proverbs. What's the wisest thing you can do in life? Get a good wife. Proverbs 31. Right? She's called, the eshet chayil, the wife, the excellent wife, the wife of noble character. We're going to talk about her.

The only person ever called that in the whole Hebrew Bible is Ruth. So look at this, exposition suffer. Illustration. How do you suffer? Exposition. How do you be wise? How do you get a good wife? Illustration. Here's how you do it. The principle of exposition and illustration is the arrangement of this. The Song of Songs is the correlation to Proverbs 31. Proverbs 31 is written for men to know how to get a good wife. The Song of Songs is written for young women to know what to look for in a good husband.

Then you've got Ecclesiastes. If you don't believe me, and you want to live a life under the sun, then here's what life looks like. It's kind of anti-wisdom, or pessimistic wisdom, life without God under the sun. We'll talk about that. It's like this, that's the book that you would like read, if you have, let's say, a son or daughter, who's about to go to college, and you don't know if they're going to like follow the way of wisdom, or the way of folly. So you say, read this book. This is what life is like without God.

III. Second Six Books: Life in Exile (05:18):

Or if you're that age right now, thinking about your future, and the kind of life you're going to live. Here's an example. If you want to know what it's like to live without God, it's this, right here. Meaningless, futile, vane, that's life in the land. Then move over here, life in exile. What is exile, and how do we live in it? Lamentations is the funeral song of Jerusalem. Jerusalem has died. Whoever wrote this, some think, Jeremiah, there's five funeral songs, right here, for the city of Jerusalem.

Then we have two examples of what it looks like to live in exile, faithfully, Esther, and Daniel. The story of Esther and Daniel's almost the same. Two exiles who rise the power in the kingdom, second. Who are plotted against, the plot overcomes, and enemy's destroyed. That's the exact same story. There's no reason to go there. Then Ezra, Nemiah, and Chronicles, go together as a group. They basically, document the failure of the return from exile. Therefore, look for the next exile. Chronicles ends with this thing, let him go up. It's a holy war verb. The question you should be asking is, “who will go up”? We find in the next chapter of the Bible, Matthew, it's Jesus, who will go up. That's how it works. That's what we're looking at right here.

Six books on life in the land, six books on life in exile. The writings were the last collection to be completed in the canon.

Jesus calls them, the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. The reason He calls them by the Psalms designation, is because that's the first book in the corpus. It's a very common Hebrew tradition. For example, Genesis is called, Bereshit, because it's the first word in the book. Exodus is called we'elleh Shemot. These are the names. It's not a very sexy title for a book. It's just the first word. Leviticus is called Vayikra, and he called. It's just how they did it. It's a normal convention.

In 132 BC, so 132 years before Jesus, this guy, the grandson of a guy named Ben Sira, translates his grandfather's work from Hebrew into Greek. He writes a prologue to that translation, and he makes reference to the three fold division of the Bible in this way, three times. He calls it an ancient tradition.

So we know that the three fold division of the Bible predates Christ, by at least 200 years, I'm going to argue maybe, 400 years. It comes in this form. This is not a wackadoodle form, it's got beauty to it, and it's going to help us understand. So with someone like Ruth, now we know how to interpret her. She's the virtuous woman. Boaz, because he gets her, is the virtuous man. They're both the only two people called by that designation in the Hebrew Bible.

IV. Conclusion (07:54):

I haven't said it this class, or this group before, so I will say it. Context is king. Where you have a book in the canon makes a big deal. It tells you, is it a covenant book? Is it a covenant history book? Or is it a covenant life book? Once you know that category, then you know how to go about interpreting it. You know how to handle it properly. You work with a hammer differently than you work with a drill, differently than work with a shovel. Now I've tried to hammer things in with my shovel and it doesn't work as well. You usually hurt something. So you don't want to hammer into it, you don't want to kind of switch tools. You want to use the right tool at the right time.